Today I did something I never do, I made a comment on a strangers post on Facebook. I couldn’t help myself. Normally a consumer of content, an observer rather than a participant, this time it felt too important not to comment.
The post was about the ‘perfect man’. A consoling rallying call to women to not give up on men and relationships, to believe that one day they will eventually have the fortune of happening upon their very own Prince Charming. I quote:
“One day, he’s going to know.
He’ll know your birthday, your middle name, where you were born, your star sign, and your parents’ names. He’ll know how old you were when you learned to ride a bike, how your grandparents passed away, and how many pets you’ve had. He’ll know your eye color, your scars, your freckles, your laugh lines, and your birth marks. He’ll know your favorite book, movie, candy, food, pair of shoes, color, and song.
He’s going to know why you’re awake at 5am most nights, where you were when you realized you’d lost a good friend, why you picked up the razor, and how you managed to put it down before things went too far.
He’s going to know your dreams, your fears, your wishes, and your worries. He’s going to know about your first heartbreak, your dream wedding, and your problems with your parents. He’ll know your strengths, weaknesses, laziness, energy, and your mixed emotions.
He’ll know your bad habits, your mannerisms, your stroppy pout, your facial expressions, and your laugh like it’s his favorite song. The way you chew, drink, walk, sleep, fidget, and kiss. He’s going to know how you feel without you telling him, and that you’re crying without shedding tears.
He’s going to know all of it.
You, from top to bottom, and inside out.
From learning, from sharing, from listening, from watching.
He’s going to know every single thing there is to know, and you know what else?
He’s still going to love you.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of instilling hope. Of inspiring optimism and positivity. Of believing that anything you want is attainable, somehow, if you just have faith. But this rankled me. It irritated me. And it really REALLY frustrated me. Because it absolutely, 100% missed the point. It absolved women of responsibility, of accountability, of examining their own role in relationships.
I’ve been in and out of relationships for most of my adult life. I was a serial fiancée in my 20’s and early 30’s, finally getting married and then divorced in short succession as I approached my next decade milestone. I’ve had great relationships and I’ve had awful relationships. I’ve dated amazing men and I’ve dated (to put it politely) assholes. Each one of those I chose based on what it was I thought I wanted and needed. And in both cases, (amazing and asshole) when they didn’t live up to my expectations, of what I believed I wanted, I broke away. The speed with which I disengaged proportionate to where they were on the scale of amazing v asshole.
For years (and I mean YEARS) I believed Mr Perfect was out there, that the man who is described in the post above, was just around the corner. That if I searched hard enough finally law of averages would work in my favour and he’d appear in front of me in all his glory. I wouldn’t have to change, I could just “be me” and suddenly, somehow, it would all fit into place.
Romance movies, fairy tales and the way we are socialised as women in our younger years all feed this narrative. We are the princesses waiting to be found. The damsels waiting to be rescued from dating distress. That the “right” guy will come along and answer our every want and need, with or without the white stallion to ride in upon. We won’t need to say a word, they will just understand us. We won’t need to explain anything because they will just ‘get’ us. They will have the IQ of Einstein and the EQ of Brene Brown.
We’re constantly told we deserve this, we’re ‘owed’ it, that we shouldn’t settle for anything less. That it is our right to have it. And this, THIS is what incenses me.
Why are we so hell bent on expecting a man, any man, to miraculously understand us, to accept us for all our imperfections and idiosyncrasies, when most days we can’t understand or accept ourselves.
I say this as someone who loves women. I really do. I’ve spent my life promoting and helping women, whether it’s at work or in my personal life. I think as a sex we are freaking amazing. We’re strong, resilient, compassionate and kind. We’re smart and savvy, can turn nothing into something more often than not. We’re brilliant champions and cheerleaders, problem solvers and strategists. We have the capacity to do so much, to use our unique talents and skills to make both our immediate environment and the world at large a better place. We really do.
But here’s the catch. When it comes to men, and relationships, more often than not we are our own self-saboteurs. I say this knowing it is true of myself.
For years I have expected a man to be perfect. To instinctively know what I was thinking and feeling and to respond accordingly. Even if I didn’t say a word. Or if the words I did say didn’t accurately convey what I meant or wanted. I expected him to just know. And when he didn’t, I blamed him. I didn’t once stop to think about how unreasonable my expectations were, or how irrational my reaction.
I wanted a man to be everything I needed, until I didn’t need it anymore. And then I expected him to change, immediately, to what it was I then felt I needed. Like a chameleon on steroids. And when he couldn’t, because no one can, guess what, yup, they were in the wrong…again.
I could write a book on all the expectations and desires I had for a man if they were to be in my life. And I could write a book of equal length on all the times it didn’t work out and the intellectual alibi I gave myself for the reasons it didn’t work.
Because here’s the thing; no man is ever going to live up to the fairytale we tell ourselves. They just can’t. Not because there’s something wrong with them, or because they don’t have what it takes, but because it’s simply impossible. More often than not we women don’t create the conditions whereby men even stand half a chance at figuring us out.
Take communication for example. Women are often cited as the best communicators. I myself have taken huge pride in colleagues and clients describing me as such. Able to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere about anything. I used to think of it as my superpower.
But when it comes to relationships, I am living proof that just because you’re good at talking, it doesn’t mean you’re good at communicating. Especially when it comes to the difficult stuff. More often than not when faced with a challenging personal situation I’ve been terrible at communicating what it is I really think.
I’ve been great at talking about how I feel, so much so I could master a 10 hour filibuster single-handedly talking about my feelings. But when it comes to actually articulating what I really think, what I really want? Rubbish. And I’m not alone. Without exception, every single one of my female friends does the same thing. We focus on our feelings.
We want our feelings to be understood and accepted. To be validated. Just like that.
We want men to miraculously divine what it is we ourselves fail to articulate.
We want them to be the best versions of themselves, ALL THE TIME, when we’re bringing far less than the best versions of ourselves to the table A LOT OF THE TIME.
THIS is why this post irked me. And prompted me to write this comment:
“Yes BUT what about us? What are WE going to do for HIM? Why do we always focus on what we want him to be, what we need him to do, why don’t we ask ourselves more often what he needs from us? What WE can do to know and learn about him? Why are we expecting him to be perfect when we aren’t. When it’s our very imperfections that we are expecting him to (perfectly) accept?”
We spend so much time these days talking about gender dynamics, about #MeToo, about the role of men and expectations of men. Why in the hell aren’t we also talking about the role of women and expectations of women. When did this debate become man versus woman, of the solution only ever being a zero sum game.
I love women, and I adore men, but one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that it is ON ME to create the conditions for the men in my life to have a hope in hell of being what I want them to be.
And even then, good luck to them because, like many of my wonderful women friends, I can be one seriously fickle female.
*First published April 2019